INDEXprojects invite you to journey through the strangely familiar from Stroud to Plymouth without leaving a barn in the Stroud valleys. Rupert Howe dons a virtual reality headset to find out how they do it...
Imagine donning a headset and entering a world which appears real, in which you can see, hear and even touch your surroundings, but is in fact a technological projection. Once the stuff of science fiction, such virtual worlds are fast becoming a reality, thanks to technological advancements such as Oculus’s gaming headset, Rift, Leap Motion’s Mobile VR platform and Google’s “augmented” eyewear, Glass, which could project overlays of weather forecasts, search results and social media alerts onto the user’s field of vision.
Such developments aren’t without their issues – Google recently halted production of Glass hardware in response to privacy and safety concerns. But virtual reality, or VR, has huge potential as an audio-visual experience, not least in the way artists create and display their artworks. This year’s SITE Festival, for instance, will feature the premiere of Corridor, a new VR-based collaboration between Stroud based INDEXprojects, who presented Siobhan Hapaska’s installation The Sky Has To Turn Black Before You Can See the Stars in the Goods Shed for SITE 2013, Plymouth’s KARST gallery and the i-DAT research lab at Plymouth University, who specialise in “playful experimentation” with creative technology.
Staged in an 18th century barn in the Slad Valley, users will don a VR headset linked to an Android smart phone and enter a mysterious corridor lined with doors which open to reveal darkened ‘gallery’ spaces. Each one contains film and video works by artists linked to INDEX and KARST, with viewers able to move within the space as if in three-dimensions. In a recent conversation, INDEX artists Ali Kayley and Helen Kincaid discussed how the project originated, what visitors to the event might expect to see and the wide-ranging creative potential currently being realised through VR technology.
So, how did Corridor come about?
Helen Kincaid: In essence, Corridor is a virtual reality space which links Index Gallery in Stroud with our co-collaborators KARST, an artist-led gallery in Plymouth. The idea for the project came about some years ago, but had its basis in forming a network of artist-led organisations to share exhibitions. That led us to look beyond moving physical artworks in favour of collaborating in a virtual space where events could happen simultaneously regardless of geographical distance. So we took the Stroud-Plymouth journey as our starting-point, using elements of those two places to create features and experiences which occur in the ‘rooms’ which branch off from the central corridor.
Ali Kayley: We also wanted to use it as an example of what other artists could do. We chose a space that’s slightly ominous, but the next artist could choose to approach it in a completely different way.
Did either of you have previous experience with this kind of technology?
AK: No! A year ago I would never have dreamed I’d be creating a virtual reality artwork, but now I’m really energised and inspired by it. I want to make my own work in VR. So it’s been a fantastic process to get to where we are now, exhibiting in this 18th century barn in the countryside near Stroud with the most modern, up-to-date technology there is. It’s very exciting.
The contrast between a historical building and these digital artworks is part of the project, then?
AK: Kind of, because we’re based in Stroud and have previously used the barn for exhibitions. So there was always the possibility we could create that lovely juxtaposition between the brand new and the ancient.